New markets are opening up for Louisiana's timber industry, expert tells forestry forum in Hammond, predicts forest landowners will be 'winners' as demand for pulpwood, wood pellet fiber, increases

HAMMOND, Louisiana , March 19, 2014 (press release) – For nearly a decade, those involved in the forest industry have suffered considerable losses, but experts say the current trends seem to be brighter with more interest in wood products.

At the 25th Annual Forestry Forum held in Hammond on March 14, LSU AgCenter experts provided some of the best news for those involved in the industry – from landowners to exporters.

LSU AgCenter area forester Brian Chandler said new markets are opening up, and he wants to make sure people in the industry have the information they need.

“We are seeing new markets for pulpwood to be used for wood pellets, and we have two wood exporters here to talk about markets now opening up for saw timber,” Chandler said.

LSU AgCenter forest products professor Richard Vlosky discussed emerging markets for wood energy and explained how wood pellets will affect the future.

“There is a tremendous demand for pellets in the European Union, where they are using these wood pellets to generate electricity,” Vlosky said. “Sweden consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s wood pellets, and 36 percent of those pellets come from the United States.”

EU nations imported more than 4.4 million metric tons of wood pellets in 2012, up from 3.2 million tons in 2011, Vlosky said.

The largest pellet production plant in the world is expected to open soon in LaSalle Parish, with plans for producing one million tons of pellets per year.

That plant and several other pellet plants opening soon in the state will be competing for the same raw material as the current producers of paper, particle board and wood chips.

“No matter what happens, the winners will be the forest landowners because of the increased demand for their product,” Vlosky said.

Jay Grymes, WAFB Channel 9 chief meteorologist, discussed how the weather pattern in Louisiana shifts over time.

“I know you guys aren’t nearly as worried about the recent cold snaps as you are about when the next rain event will occur,” Grymes said. “Louisiana weather patterns will follow the historic patterns overall, but we have been in a drier pattern since about the turn of the century.”

The state entered this pattern around 1998 and will likely experience this drier weather pattern for the next 10 years or so, Grymes predicts.

A recent increase in demand in overseas markets for whole logs has opened a new opportunity for forest landowners to sell to exporters in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

LSU AgCenter researcher Mike Kaller discussed the perceptions of prescribed burning and also the importance of the practice in southeast Louisiana.

“Many people don’t realize that burning of forest land is a natural occurrence, and there is not near the damage to wildlife that many believe,” Kaller said.

Among the benefits of burning is that it brings more diversity to the land, Kaller said.

“If you like birds, then burning will bring in more types of birds. If you like deer, you’ll have better deer,” Kaller said. “All of these animals respond positively to burning because that’s what they’ve evolved to respond positively to.”

Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, discussed legislative issues from the national and state levels.

Important legislative effort on the national level continues to allow forest landowners to use best management practices without fear of much regulation, Vandersteen said.

On the state level, Vandersteen and several others on the program discussed Drax Biomass, one of the EU companies investing in Louisiana to provide wood pellets for the electric-generating industry in the United Kingdom.

LSU AgCenter forestry economist Shaun Tanger told growers the sawtimber market also looks to improve with the expectation of a better housing market.

A number of growers wanted to know what these emerging markets will mean in real dollars, Tanger said. The answer is that nobody knows for sure.

“Even though there are not a lot of studies out there, what I am finding is that over the next decade, we’re seeing over 40 percent increases in pine pulpwood for the pellet industry,” Tanger said.

Tanger said the numbers are not quite that good for hardwood pulpwood for pellets because the demand is not that high.

If the trends are accurate, growers will be in a good position with almost any type of wood on their land, Tanger said.

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